This Narrator is Approximately Sixteen

Petra Chambers

I’m not poor, I’m punk rock. Anyway, it’s not what you think. When I was 13 my dad & I lived in an 8’x8’ shed & he invited an aging-out foster kid named Axel to live with us, but I had a horse. I think I had a horse. Our neighbor didn’t want to feed the horse after her kid grew up & moved away, so she gave the horse to me. Ostensibly. The tent where Axel slept was meant for hay but he made himself a nest with sleeping bags on top of the bales. I didn’t mind because people, like horses, aren’t supposed to be disposable, even if you get tired of feeding them. But it was awkward when my horse was hungry & Axel was hungover. The tent smelled of old alcohol steeped in sour teenage boy sweat with a subtle backnote of sweet clover as I pulled a flake or two from his nest bales around his sleeping body. We’d no running water or anything like a bathroom, but we had an outdoor kitchen, which was a tarp, a cooler & a picnic table. I brushed my teeth with ditchwater. Dad & Axel drank beer & played ball. I read books in my miniature loft in the tiny shed or rode my horse. She loved to gallop & I let her because she was big & old & willful. When I was 15, my neighbor’s kid came home to visit & took my horse one day without asking. I was doing community service, dusting tin cans and washing lettuces at the Co-op store. I’d broken into the Co-op late one night some months before & stolen stuff. Spent the days after the heist hiding out on the mountain with a cute boy who’d just moved to the island & moved away soon after & died of an overdose soon after that. My neighbor’s kid walked into the Employees Only area behind the dairy cooler with my horse’s bridle in her hand and said she’s dead, I think she had a heart attack, she’s on the beach. The person who was supervising my community service thought I was legitimately shitting her when I said I have to go because my horse is dead & unexpectedly I walked to Mum’s & she helped me call a backhoe to scoop up my horse with its largest digging bucket before the tide came in & excavate a huge hole beside her driveway & drop my horse in with a bone-shattering crunch & refill the hole with ruddy earth, tapping the mound lovingly with its bucket at the end. Then Mum and I went to the nursery in her Volvo station wagon that was rank with cigarette smoke & I picked out a purple-leafed plum tree that promised to bloom pink every spring & Mum paid for it which was really nice & the backhoe guy said no charge which was really nice & we planted that tree on the mound of red dirt. So I guess she really was my horse. Mum & I weren’t on speaking terms but we apparently had a moratorium that afternoon & given the circumstances the Co-op said I didn’t have to finish my community service either. The funny part was I didn’t actually break into the Co-op. I was one of the kids on the porch, waiting for the cigarettes, chocolate bars, potato chips, rolling papers, and hey grab me some chocolate milk & tampons, but afterwards I’d declared that I’d broken in—yes—I’d done it, and I think I said that because Mum worked there & what I was really trying to say is that kids aren’t supposed to be disposable, even if you get tired of feeding them. Maybe what I mean by punk rock is it’s better to be a hooligan than feel expendable & it’s easier to wear safety pins in glittering rows across the rips in my jeans than admit that nobody has ever bought me pads or tampons or remembers I need clothes.


Petra Chambers lives on a small island in the Salish Sea. She has been taking creative writing classes at The Writers Studio since 2021 and writing full-time since October 2022. Her first essay was accepted for publication by Queens Quarterly (Summer 2024 issue). This is her first prose poem.